the final frontier. again.

star trek image When I was a kid I used to sneak over to my best friend Michelle’s house to watch Star Trek.  For some reason, probably having to do with the kind of man James T. Kirk was, my parents did not allow me to watch the show.  I don’t know if they had any idea why I always spent Thursday nights over at Michelle’s, but since we were inseparable most of the time they probably didn’t think much of it.  In any case, we’d sit in the dark in front of the black and white TV, two very bad seven year old girls munching popcorn and dreaming of the final frontier.  I doubt we knew we were watching a cultural touchstone.

As it turns out, we were.  Star Trek (now with The Original Series appended to distinguish it from all the also-rans) only lasted three years in its original run on network television but has pretty much been on the air non-stop in one form or another for over 40 years.  The original show lives on in syndication, along with its three sequels and one prequel.   There is an animated series.  There are games (including an MMORPG coming soon to an internet near you).  There are books and comics and fan fic.   And there are movies, eleven of them so far.   Every once in awhile, someone decides it would be a good idea to make another Star Trek movie.

I watched the most recent of these, last year’s Star Trek, in glorious hi def the other night.  I am surprised to say it didn’t suck.

SPOILERS!  (although this movie is so yesterday by now that most of you have probably seen it).

This movie could have been titled “James T. Kirk, the Wonder Years”.  The movie starts with Kirk’s birth on a shuttlecraft fleeing an about-to-be-destroyed Federation starship captained by his about-to-be-dead father (wait?  what?  Kirk was born in Iowa…).  In a touching last transmission, Kirk’s mother and father decide what to name him as the self-destruct button counts down on the instrument panel.   The next time we see Kirk he is an obnoxious (and short) pre-teen driving his stepfather’s antique candy-apple red corvette over the side of a cliff.   Apparently this entirely ridiculous scene is supposed to establish the fatherless Kirk as troubled, rebellious, cocky, anti-authority, preternaturally self-assured, risk-taking, attention-seeking, and one hell of a driver.  (Also very unconcerned with taking care of other peoples’ stuff.)   This is the extent of character development prior to our introduction to the now adult Kirk, in a bar, where he tries to pick up the lovely Uhuru and gets his ass whupped by some Federation cadets.  In the next scene, he meets Captain Christopher Pike (yes that Chris Pike) who tells him his father saved more lives in the handful of minutes he was a starship captain than most people ever will in a lifetime of service and basically shames him into joining the Academy.  Three years later as the Young Kirk is preparing to graduate he cheats his way to solving an “unsolvable” battle scenario (yes, the Kobayashi Maru test) that was written by…Spock!  (ta da!)  Spock (played by some guy who is famous on a TV show I have never seen) and Kirk initially don’t get along all that well (and later in the movie Kirk steals command of the Enterprise from him by using a loophole in Starfleet regulations).  While Kirk is up before a disciplinary board a distress signal from Vulcan is received and, since the rest of the fleet is too far away, all the newly graduating cadets are pressed into service.  “Bones” McCoy smuggles Kirk on board the Enterprise and the movie finally gets started.

The rest of the plot is … convoluted to say the least.  There’s some balderdash about time travel through a black hole and revenge fantasies and Romulus being destroyed in the future and Vulcan being destroyed (!) in the present by something called “red matter” and Spock’s mother (Winona Ryder!) dying (!!), and giant scary spaceships being able to basically sneak up on Earth and start drilling in San Francisco Bay.  There are explosions.  There is manly hand to hand combat on giant drilling platforms high in the air.   There are daring transporter rescues.  There is next to no sex.   There is the obligatory “Spock getting emotional” scene.  To sum up, Nero is a Romulan from the future who is pissed off at Spock who he believed failed to prevent Romulus from being destroyed.  He and Spock are both sucked back in time through a black hole and Nero embarks on a mission to obtain his revenge by destroying all the Federation planets.  He starts with Vulcan and then proceeds to Earth.

The movie takes a great deal of liberty with “facts” from the old TV shows and somewhat glibly explains it all away by setting the entire thing in an alternate reality, one that diverged from the “real” or “prime” reality pretty much at exactly the moment James T. Kirk was born (which doesn’t explain why his mom was in space and not in Iowa…)  I spent much of it distracted by the ways it diverged from the old ST:TOS, repeating to myself  “remember–alternate reality”, and considering how well (or how poorly) the “new” characters reference the “prime” versions.  To their credit, most of the actors in the movie paid homage to their predecessors without imitating them or turning themselves into caricatures.  The “alternate reality” premise gives a lot of leeway but I think very few people would have been pleased to have blatant differences.  So Sulu is still a fencer.  Chekhov still can’t say his Vs properly (and appears to be 17).  Uhuru is still the only woman on the bridge but at least they gave her a first name.  Bones is still neurotic and histrionic and Scotty is still Scottish.  As far as the two main characters go, the guy that plays Kirk does a decent job.  You can, if you squint a little, see this Kirk growing up to be William Shatner’s Kirk (although I must say, you know it is definitely an alternate reality when Kirk is on the bridge and he’s not hitting on every female in sight).  He doesn’t ape Shatner’s mannerisms or his oratory skills, but he does have the cocksure, go-for-broke attitude down.  Spock is a little more problematic.  He looks like he could be a young Leonard Nimoy’s twin brother but somehow he doesn’t manage to “be” Spock.  He tries.  He does the impassive face and the hands behind the back and the arched eyebrow thing.  Maybe it was his voice.  Maybe it is because he is the one character in the movie that seems to make a deliberate effort to look just like his predecessor and it is actually distracting.  He looks so much like Nimoy that you expect him to be Nimoy and, well, he isn’t.

There are some laughable plot devices.  For one thing, Starfleet is a serious organization.  No way in hell would it give command of its newest and best and fanciest starship to a kid who didn’t actually graduate from the Academy (got caught cheating, remember?), smuggled himself on board a ship, committed mutiny, attacked a senior officer, disobeyed orders, and committed an act of war (the Federation has a treaty with Romulus), no matter whether he saved the Earth or not.  (IIRC, although Kirk was the youngest starship commander on record, he did serve for years on other ships before receiving command of the Enterprise.)  The movie contrives mightily to get all the major characters together in such a way as to prefigure their eventual roles on the Enterprise.  Sulu and Chekhov apparently come with the ship.  Uhuru, Bones, and Spock are assigned to the ship upon graduation.  When Nero attacks the ship the ship’s doctor is killed, leaving Bones in charge of sick bay.   When Spock tosses Kirk off the ship, he’s marooned on the same planet where 1) Spock Prime (Nimoy) is also marooned and who can tell him (and us) exactly what is going on; and 2) one Montgomery Scott is using his time in exile to perfect transporter technology.   As usual, the time travel plot device is a bit problematic.  In this case, Spock/Nimoy and Nero are thrown back in time by a black hole following the destruction of Romulus.  It is not explained why, once he realizes he is in the past, Nero does not use his knowledge to prevent the destruction of his home (or at least warn it) rather than setting up complicated revenge scenarios.  (I try not to think about time paradoxes too much…my head might explode.)

All that aside, I enjoyed this movie.  This is a pretty good example of a movie not needing to be deep or smart to be a fun night out (or in, as the case may be).  It doesn’t insult the intelligence (like, oh, say…Avatar).  It knows its audience and pays a great deal of respect to its predecessor while at the same time keeping from getting bogged down in canon.  The plot is kinda dumb but no more so than any action movie and it moves along fast enough that the oddities (little and big) don’t really leap out at you until later when you stop to think about it.  Plus, I really had fun watching the younger interpretations of characters that form some of the best entertainment-related memories of my childhood and seeing how the filmmakers made each one recognizable as the person they will someday become.  The movie didn’t insult either me or the franchise.   I’m not really a “trekkie” but I’ve always liked Star Trek and after seeing the trailers for this movie I had some really grave doubts but I’m happy to say that although it rewrites ST history a bit it also preserves it.  The alternate universe runs in parallel to the one created in the series and when Spock/Nimoy tells Kirk “where I’m from your father lived to see you graduate from the Academy” he is really telling us “don’t worry, everything is still the same in that other universe, so it’s ok to enjoy this one.” And we do.

Score: Meh.  But an OK meh.

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~ by gun street girl on January 24, 2010.

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